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Organic Mentorship


Madeline Coffin, Senior VP of Human Resources at Alkermes, on why the best mentorship programs are those that are developed in an organic way and customized to each person’s growth and development goals.

Madeline Coffin, Senior Vice President of Human Resources at Alkermes, tells Pharm Exec why the best mentorship programs are those that are developed in an organic way and customized to each person’s growth and development goals. 

PharmExec: Can you outline how your mentorship programs are developed organically?

Madeline Coffin

Madeline Coffin: We’ve had experience with more formal mentoring programs in the past. We have found it to be more effective when people have an opportunity, either through a leadership development program or a project, to meet with a leader in the organization and develop a relationship organically that leads to mentoring. Very often that establishes a more natural connection between the two people. My experience is that you may not have the best match with some formal mentoring programs, as they can sometimes feel forced. Allowing people to find each other and find a commonality of interest can really work well, so we’ve encouraged that to happen organically rather than through a formal program.

We also look outside of our company for ways to connect our high potential people to mentors. In the U.S., for example, we participate in a program called Women Unlimited.  A program like this can provide high-performing women with access to leaders from other companies and industries. They can learn from these leaders and this very often develops into a more informal mentoring arrangement where they can go back and use that person for career advice.

We’re focused on the value of mentorship through our recent “shark tank” challenge – an inaugural innovation contest within the R&D community where a number of scientists at all levels of the company come up with project ideas. The finalists are being paired with a senior executive, up to and including the CEO, as a mentor who will help them advance their projects. This is a great opportunity for our scientists to work directly with some of our senior leaders; it’s not mentoring in itself, but mentoring in the context of a particular project, and there is tremendous excitement about this novel approach to innovation.

How do you that ensure mentors also get the best of the relationships?

They get a number of things. They get to meet someone who may not be in their team or department, familiarize themselves with that person’s work, and get a perspective from another part of the organization that they may not normally have access to. Mentorship also provides the opportunity to fine tune leadership qualities such as empathy and active listening. Our mentors even use their mentees as a sounding board to test ideas, so it really is a mutually beneficial relationship.

What for you are the challenges around recruiting and developing new talent today?

Particularly in the Boston area, the recruitment environment is very competitive. We offer interesting, challenging work, a very positive culture, and a mission that people can believe in. We are in the mental illness and addiction space, which are diseases that touch almost everyone in some way. Most candidates that come through our doors have a personal connection to the work that we do, and that connection often helps them become very mission-driven  and fuelling a desire to make a difference. We really want people to understand what our values are and the strong culture of the company so that they will stay and be successful.

How do you maintain a commitment to diversity and inclusiveness in your talent-development efforts?

When I hear people talk about the work environment, they talk about respect and I think that is what underpins our approach to diversity and inclusiveness. We apply a “respect each voice” value to every person, which is something that came from feedback from our employees. We’ve been able to retain and attract quite a diverse population of employees here as a result of that culture.

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